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In fact who cares? Well a lot of people don’t really, but I have had a few debates over the years as to which is which (yes I know I need to get out more) , so here goes the debate, and I welcome your comments as to which is which. I touched on this subject in an earlier post, using asparagus again, it must be a seasonal debate of mine! And another post about asparagus here. According to Larousse Gastronomique (and that’s a book that should know) a salad is ” a dish of raw or cold cooked foods, usually dressed and seasoned, served as an hors d’oeuvre, side dish etc”. It then takes various forms:  green, plain or mixed.

According to The Oxford Companion to Food the warm salad is a 20th century invention. The original salad or salata is derived from the Latin sal which gave us the term relating to “salted things”. Brilliant, so chips &  bacon is a salad! Oh no, wait a minute, chips are hot. So if they’re served warm does that make them a salad? I mean it’s composed mainly of vegetables isn’t it? Perhaps not, but we can dream. The scary thing is that there are people in this country that think chips are one of their five a day!

And my favourite description is from a Book of Medieval Food (Maggie Black 1985) the salat is described thus: “Take parsel, sawge, garlec, chibollas, oynons, leek, borage, myntes, porrectes, fenel, and ton tressis, rew, rosemarye, purslane, lave, and waisshe hem clene. Pike hem, pluck hem small with thyn hand and mygn hem wel with rawe oile. Lay on vynegar and salt and serve it forth” That seems a little different from opening a bag of salad from the supermarket doesn’t it?

Okay, so my opinion (such as it is) is that a salad is a cold or warm dish, not hot, composed mainly of cooked vegetables, dressed with some form of oil/vinegar/mayonnaise/lemon/lime juice arrangement. A hot salad isn’t a salad and I don’t know what it is.

So on to dinner. The first asparagus of the year is always pretty expensive (it’s never cheap anyway) but it’s everything that’s exciting about seasonal food. I tend to wait a few weeks after the first stems have hit the shops & the price goes down a little. Asparagus is one of those quintessentially english ingredients that needs to be celebrated once a year. Not served up every week of the year, chargrilled from Peru with fancy butters and confused accompaniments.

The great thing about it is that it’s very versatile, has a strong flavour of its own and thus will take some pretty robust flavours with it. Chargrilled is nice, plain boiled with just unsalted butter, freshly-ground black pepper & flaky salt is classic and amazing or mixed with other interesting ingredients as part of a bigger salad. I chose the latter for dinner.

Asparagus, bacon & potato salad with lemon & mustard dressing (and a poached egg):

1 bunch of asparagus, snapped of woody ends.

Bacon lardons, a small handful (I’ll post pictures and recipes of my home-made bacon at some point)

2 cloves of garlic, thinly sliced.

2 medium potatoes, peeled if old & too muddy (mine were!) diced in 2-3cm cubes

2-3 Courgettes, sliced.

2 fresh, free-range eggs

For the dressing:

  • Finely grated zest & juice of 1/2 a lemon
  • 1-2 tsp grain mustard
  • A pinch of salt
  • Freshly-ground black pepper
  • Good olive oil

Put on big pot of water to boil

In a non-stick frying pan, fry the bacon lardons over a medium heat until they’re starting to take some colour, stirring. Add the garlic & continue to cook for another 2-3 minutes. Take the pan off the heat &…

Drop the potatoes into the water and simmer until tender, about 5 minutes. When they’re done, take them out with a slotted spoon and allow them to steam-dry for a minute or 2.You’re going to use the water again for the asparagus so don’t chuck it out, put it back on to boil.

Place the cooked potato into the bacon pan & put the frying pan back on the heat, medium-hot this time. Stir or toss the bacon, potato & garlic. Ideally the spuds will take on some colour, but don’t worry too much if they don’t. The important thing is that they soak up the bacony-garlic flavour. It may, or may not, look something like this. Eagle-eyed readers will notice my garlic a little browned which you may, or may not enjoy as a flavour, it can be quite strong. Ideally you’ll be doing 2 things at once for efficiency, so..

Needs a bit of colour

For flavour the potatoes need a little browning

When the water has come back to a rolling boil drop in the asparagus for 4 minutes, 5 at a push. Then take them out & drop them in to cold water to stop them cooking & going soft. If you want you can put some ice in, but I find running the cold tap is usually enough.

Put the sliced courgettes in to the bacon/potato pan and stir gently over a medium heat. You can turn up the heat a bit & give the courgettes some more flavour if you like, just remember to keep it moving so they don’t catch on the pan. Probably about another 5 minutes or so. I like my courgettes just cooked with a little bite.

For the dressing combine the lemon zest, juice & mustard in a screw top jar with the salt & pepper. Give it good shake and add double the volume of olive oil (extra virgin for preference) to lemon/mustard. Give it really, really good shake and add 1/2 as much oil again. Taste, it may need more oil, it may not. You can obviuosly adjust the mustard to your taste as well. Sorry to be a bit imprecise with my measurements, but lemons are all different sizes. I find it much easier (and more efficient) to use 1/2 a lemon rather than just squeeze some out & you’re left with a squashed lemon. A good ratio of oil to lemon is 4:1.

Nearly cooked & without dressing

Slice the asparagus on the angle, throw in the pan with the other ingredients & warm through with as much dressing as you like. Probably about 2-3 tablespoons.

Serve with a softly poached egg on top. The egg should ooze on to the salad in a luxurious manner. Mine didn’t, I overcooked them so there’s no photo! Hey, nobody’s perfect.


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There’s something in the air. I almost feel as though spring has passed & we’ve moved into summer with the weather we’ve been having.

We had the first bbq of the year last night, so maybe that’s what it is. I get very excited at the changing of the seasons, particularly when it comes to food. We’ve eaten so many roots, stews & winter greens, which I love, but I know spring is really springing & summer’s just around the corner when the wild garlic comes out. Lettuce, beans & tomatoes et al aren’t far behind.

We went to Devon 2 weekends ago, beautiful sunshine and magnolias in full bloom. This is the piece I wrote then.

27th March 2011 Devon.

I’m always filled with (probably a blind) romanticism when I come down here. So much so that I think the simplest meals become something special. Maybe it’s because so many meals in our lives are more that the sum of the ingredients. And by ingredients, I don’t just mean the food.

One of the most memorable meals of my life was in Morocco, sat beside the road with a stranger I’d hitched a ride with. We ate bread, meat, cheese, fruit, and drank some water sitting between the fields worked by local people. It was hot, dry and dusty, and we sat in the shade of the trees that lined the dirt track we’d turned on to, making broken conversation with my poor French & his poor English. We shared the food we’d bought at a local market. The food was good & quite ordinary really. The table, cutlery and plates were non-existent and the conversation hardly sparkling. So in many ways all the classic ingredients for a good meal weren’t in place. Yet I remember it so vividly as being a very special time, place and meal.

Last night’s dinner was very simple, but very delicious, and, it seemed to me, a bit special. The hedgerows here are alive with wild garlic.

I find it a bit like owning a red car. As soon as you see one, you see them everywhere. The same is true of the garlic. Masses and masses of it. Not just banks, but great swathes of it up and down the lanes.

Last year I started compiling a list of places around Bristol where you could find wild garlic. This year I wasn’t that bothered about cooking or using wild garlic until we drove home with some mussels from the shop and I spotted the garlic in the hedges.

This recipe is one of the best ways of using it I feel, almost like a green vegetable in its own right. The addition of greens like spinach or wild garlic make the mussel dish a little more substantial.

Be careful not to cook all the pungency out of it, it’s much milder than cultivated garlic bulbs anyway, but it’s nice to have a bit of zip to it.

Mussels with leeks, cream, white wine and wild garlic:

For 2 as a main course with bread.

2 kg of mussels, bearded & cleaned

1 small onion, finely diced

2 small leeks, thinly sliced & washed

1-2 glasses white wine

2 fresh bay leaves

125ml or so of single cream

As much wild garlic as you like, washed & thinly shredded, say 2 big fistfuls, washed carefully.

  • Use a pot with a lid, big enough to hold all the mussels as they open. They’ll take up more room as they cook.
  • Soften the onion in a little olive oil over a medium heat.
  • Add the leeks & continue to sauté until soft.
  • Chuck in the mussels, wine & bay leaves, turn up the heat, cover & simmer until the mussels open, stirring from time to time, about 3-5 minutes.
  • Add the wild garlic, stir, a lot, & cook for a further 3 minutes until the garlic has wilted.
  • Finish with the cream, allowing it to heat through but not boil.
  • Serve in bowls with bread to mop up the juices.
    So, a simple meal, in a special time & place, which, as I say seemed much more than the sum of the ingredients.

    When I wrote this there wasn’t much garlic around Bristol, but plenty in Devon. Now it’s all over the place! Get it while you can, but only take as much as you need & leave some for others, please.

    For any help you might need finding & identifying it have a look at the link here. Even if you don’t find any, you’ll have a nice walk in the woods!

First one of the season.

An onion squash if I’m not mistaken.

Don’t know what I’ll do with it yet, but one of my favourites is to roast it in wedges in a hot oven with sage, salt & pepper, olive oil & cinnamon sticks. They’re super-versatile. Roasted, mashed, in warm salads with feta, makes a great soup, pickled, chutneyed, even pizza topping and, er, squashed? (sorry)

It came in our veg box from the lovely people at Leigh Court Farm along with a massive red cabbage & various other items. I like a veg box, my weekly dose of culinary challenge (I know, I need to get out more). But having no choice, and being given a selection of vegetables to cook makes me try things I wouldn’t usually, or at the least I have to get creative & try different dishes.

At the moment there’s a beetroot chutney to be made, I’m nearly sick of runner beans (and they’re beginning to get a little stringy), I’ve got loads of lovely red onions (very good on the bbq with yoghurt & zahtar, recipe to follow) and more potatoes than I know what to do with.

As the seasons change so does the produce. Autumn must be one of my favourite times of year for food. Sweetcorn, squashes, apples, beetroot, blackberries, the list goes on. In fact, when I was looking at my seasonal food list the other day September had the biggest number of foods available, across all the meat, fish, fruit & vegetables. Exciting times if you’re a cook.

No doubt in 3 months time, in the depths of winter I’ll be craving the runner beans and I’ll be sick of the squash!

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